Ken Bebelle studied Cybernetics at UCLA and has practiced prosthetics for over twenty years, specializing in upper limb prosthetics. He writes science fiction and fantasy with his co-author, Julia Vee. Their debut novel, Ebony Gate, an Asian-inspired urban fantasy, will be published by TOR in summer 2023.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Two years ago, Emiko Soong was the Blade of the Soong Clan, a powerful magical family descended from one of the revered dragon sons. But after events led Emiko to earn herself the title the Butcher of Beijing, she broke her blade and moved to San Francisco, hoping to retire and live a quiet life away from clan politics. Unfortunately, a death god has called due a family blood debt, and Emiko is the only one who can fulfill his request. Someone has stolen the anchor that keeps a portal to the underworld sealed, and if Emiko can’t retrieve the anchor in time, her soul will serve as the new anchor instead.
Ebony Gate is an absolutely stellar entry in a new urban fantasy series, one that invites you into a secret world of dragon magic, clan politics, and deadly monsters. In this version of our world, powerful magical families descended from a great dragon were forced from their realm centuries ago, and they’ve been living in secret among us ever since. Those families are spread out across many Asian countries, including China, Japan, and Vietnam, and the authors use that fact to pull monsters from different Asian folktales and mythologies. Clan members have an affinity for one of the various branches of dragon magic, from superhuman strength to charm speak that controls a person’s mind. All except Emiko, our heroine, who has no magical talent at all and has survived by training to be a deadly warrior.
I really loved immersing myself in this underworld of clan dealings; the publisher has been pushing comparisons to John Wick, and I can safely say if you like the idea of a secret society ruled by strict codes of conduct, where families exchange markers to be cashed in at a later date, and where some people go by simple names like The Librarian, you’ll find Ebony Gate to your liking. Although Emiko has tried to live outside this life, she has to plunge back in to fulfill her debt to the death god and soon realizes that relationships between the clans of San Francisco might be more fragile than she realized.
While I mostly had a good time with Ebony Gate, I had a few small complaints. One is that two love interests are introduced, and with time split between the two of them, I didn’t feel like I really got to either of them all that well (especially as one disappears from the plot about halfway through). There’s clearly a long game at play with the relationships, but I think I would have rather spent more time with one and have them fleshed out than to be given two rather thin characters. (I want to also stress, this is not a paranormal romance story, the romantic tension is VERY much a subplot.)
In a similar vein, there were one or two storylines introduced early on that vanished for a good chunk of the book, only to emerge at the end as a problem to deal with later; while again, this is clearly setup for a long play, it was slightly jarring for something that seemed like a major plot beat to vanish and reappear again.
CONCLUSION: Ebony Gate is a fantastic introduction to a new secret world of magic and conflict, and I was thoroughly delighted to explore it. The arc of the reluctant hero is well done and has a great payoff that I look forward to seeing continue to play out in future installments. I definitely recommend this to someone looking for a fun adventure summer read or a new urban fantasy series to get excited about.